On the subject of national security, reading it later* is another option.

Steven Aftergood, at the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, discussed a new judge for the FISA court.  The article also discussed the idea of setting up a similar court to “review the conduct of drone strikes.”

Spencer Ackerman, writing for Wired/Danger Room, says that a cash strapped Army still plans on helping Pakistan fight narcotics. To quote his conclusion:

It’ll be a long time before the U.S. military gets out of the south-Asian anti-drug game, whatever the budget situation might be.

Aljazeera is reporting that Egypt will hold parliamentary elections.  Details:

Voting will take place in four stages with new People’s Assembly invited to convene on July 6, presidential decree says.

*Source: Get Pocket.com (formerly Read It Later) is my aggregator.


High profile journalists weigh in on the Afghanistan plan —

There are a number of good reasons for the Obama administration to review the plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The election of an Afghan president has yet to be settled; a runoff may be necessary.The strength of the Taliban insurgency has nearly quadrupled since 2006.  Reuters reported that, "A U.S. intelligence assessment, showing the number of fighters in the insurgency has reached an estimated 25,000 from 7,000 in 2006, spotlights Taliban gains and the tough choices facing President Barack Obama in trying to reverse the trend."  Senators are beginning to take one side or the other in the debate.  Senator Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, came out early as opposed to sending any more troops.  More recently Senator Inouye, heading the Appropriations Committee, is supporting General McChrystal's plan.  Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon.com, on Tuesday effectively analyzed what is at stake in this for Democrats.

Arianna Huffington
led the political news headline lists on Wednesday with her provocative piece titled, "Why Joe Biden Should Resign."  Like so many other readers, my first thought was, "my goodness, what has he done now?"  And I immediately clicked on the HuffPo article.  Well, the Vice President's only transgression was to do what the man who chose him expected.  Joe Biden staked out the other end of the spectrum of the escalate-now view.  And Huffington's article calls upon Vice President Biden to resign in protest if the military's escalate-first view becomes the centerpiece of the administration's strategic plan.

Politico.com published an excellent article about who might have leaked General McChystal's Afghanistan assessment to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.  Ben Smith offers a wide range of plausible possibilities, but no conclusions, except that the leak highlights the divisions within the Obama administration  over a future Afghanistan strategy.  And it really does not matter who leaked the information, because the administration has no plans to focus on finding the culprit or hero, depending on your point of view.

George Will wrote a column for the Washington Post on September 1 that recommended "Reduce troops and revamp Afghan strategy."  He concludes unequivocally:

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

Roger Simon, also of Politico, wrote an excellent and very clear-eyed piece last month that discussed the evolution of the United States mission in Afghanistan over the years.  The terms used were "mission creep to mission gallop."  The pace or destination is central to the administration's current strategic planning project.  Simon's stark conclusion is one with which I tend to agree.:

So send more troops, or lose the whole shooting match. It is easy to see why the memo was leaked. The Pentagon does not want Obama to go wobbly on Afghanistan. It wants him to stay and fight. And stay and stay and stay.

“I don’t have a deadline for withdrawal,” Obama told David Gregory on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “but I’m certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.”

But if Iraq was George W. Bush’s war — and it certainly was — Afghanistan has now become Barack Obama’s war. He wasn’t the president who started it, but he can be the president who finishes it.

Or he can be the president who stays there indefinitely.

Because I am not one of the high profile journalists featured in today's post, I am a bit reluctant to weigh in myself.  But I will.  My vote for President Obama was predicated upon his commitment to get out of Iraq and go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  I believed that the U.S. needs to finish the job ignored by the Bush administration.  That does not mean replay Iraq in Afghanistan.  It is time to get back on point — pursuit of Al Qaeda.

Posted via email from Southwest Postings

Afghanistan is a riddle wrapped in an enigma for the U.S..

Afghanistan is grabbing its share of headlines this week.  Multiple intense meetings are taking place at the White House.  Various of the key players have come down publicly on one side or the other about what to do next.  Violence continues in “Af-Pak,” as it became known early in the Obama administration.  Defining who the primary adversaries are in the region has not been settled.  Friction is being between the military and civilian elements within the governments of both the U.S. and Pakistan.  And everybody is weighing in with opinions.  Today’s post is my attempt to clarify the basic elements of the current situation.

A suicide car bomb killing at least 12 people was intended for the Indian embassy in Kabul, according to the New York Times (10/8/09).  The previous day the same paper published an analysis by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt that explains that the Afghan war debate now leans towards a plan to focus on a campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.  It is not known whether this view is accepted by the entire Obama war cabinet.

The central debate question seems to hinge on the nature of the current relationship between the Taliban and Al Queda.  The administration pointed out to the Times in an anonymous interview that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan.  Recent successes with surgical strikes against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan may make that country less central to U.S. strategy.  Another anonymous official characterizes the strategy as one of viewing the Taliban, militants local to Afghanistan and jihadist Al Qaeda as very different.  President Obama has reiterated that his goal is to protect the United States and to prevent the jihadis from getting safe haven.  Mark Knoller reported on Twitter that “a WH official says Obama received a ‘comprehensive intelligence and counterterrorism assessment’ on political & diplomatic situation in Pakistan.”  The unpredictability of the future of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has to eventually be settled by the President.

President Obama requested an early look at General McChrystal’s troop request from Defense Secretary Gates, according to McClatchy on Wednesday.  The President wanted to read it before the top military officials reviewed it so that it would not be leaked to reporters as was McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment. This may suggest friction between the military and the commander in chief.  And there has certainly been friction between General McChrystal and his superiors because of his public stances, and because of the leak — source unknown.

Pakistan’s army has similarly objected publicly to the conditions in the $1.5 billion U.S. (Kerry-Lugar) aid package still to be signed by the President, McClatchy reported.  The objection, according to McClatchy, caught the administration by surprise and comes at a time just prior to a planned offensive towards militants in the border region of Waziristan.  And it pits the military “against the fragile civilian government of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has championed the U.S. assistance deal,” as well as against the opposition in parliament.  The bill has a number of requirements including, “monitoring and certification of Pakistan’s action against terrorism. . . requires the country to work to prevent nuclear proliferation and to show that its military isn’t interfering in Pakistani politics.”  Pakistan’s Foreign minister, on a trip to Washington, played down concerns over the bill, while acknowledging that the language could have been more sensitive to Pakistan’s sovereignty.  Marc Ambinder posted this on Twitter:

RT @nickschifrin: Is the Pakistani military statement of doubt about the Kerry-Lugar bill in #Pakistan a game changer?” It was linked to a related BBC News story explaining more about the nature of the Pakistani military’s objections.

Finally, many of us remember Charlie Wilson’s War. Huffingington Post reports that Wilson now thinks that we ought to consider a new strategy regarding the war in Afghanistan.  “I’d probably shut it down, rather than lose a lot of soldiers and treasure,” noting the President’s “very tough situation.”  See the Scranton Times-Tribune for the fascinating interview.

Afghanistan is a very difficult region of conflict, with no simple answers for the U.S.  Pakistan, and even India, are all parts of one puzzle.  Pakistan’s weak government will probably not fall over its own internal dissension, and the Waziristan campaign will probably begin.  The President is not going to withdraw troops from Afghanistan or aid from Pakistan.  His plans for a strategy will emerge in the next few weeks.  It will almost certainly be a very complicated plan, as it should in these enigmatic circumstances.

Gross: Massive Fraud in Afghanistan Election,” is by Nasrine Gross at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment (10/7/09).

Robert Kaplan on the Regional Dimensions of Afghanistan,” is from Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note (10/7/09).

Guest Post by Michael Cohen: The Trouble with Counter-Insurgency,” is from Steve Clemons’ The Washington Note (4/1/09).

Battle of Books rages in Afghan debate,” is from The Wall Street Journal at  Memeorandum (10/7/09).  Regards Lessons in Disaster and A Better War.

‘Code Pink’ rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout,” is from the Christian Science Monitor at  Memeorandum (10/7/09).

Posted via email from Southwest Postings

Thursday’s Military News Items Take Center Stage.

A brewing split regarding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan pits Democrats against Republicans and placeds President Obama squarely in the middle of the disagreement.  Jim Lobe wrote an excellent foreign policy analysis of  the issues for the Asia Times (9/17/09).  Lobe begins by saying that the question “poses one of the most difficult political challenges faced by President Barack Obama in his first year in office,” asking how the President faces alienating members of his own party, while gathering a great deal of support from the opposition party.  Read the rest of this insightful piece to get a very good objective picture of the Commander-in-chief’s brewing dilemma.

Senators were presented with plans for success in Afghanistan and Pakistan Wednesday, according to the Congressional Quarterly (9/16/09).  Six pertinent committees related to national security in the House of Representatives will be briefed Thursday.  The article contains interesting specifics about the military objectives in the region, as well as reactions by the key senate committee chairmen.  To quote from the Quarterly:

. . . a draft list of U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and measures of progress toward achieving them.. . [an] unclassified document, . . . shows the importance of nuclear-armed Pakistan in the administration’s approach to the regional conflict. It also shows an emphasis on soliciting support from other nations to address the problem.. . . The goal of the United States,” the document begins, “is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

The United States is going to announce Thursday that it will drop plans to build a European missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic (purportedly against an Iranian missile attack), the Financial Times reported (9/17/09).  No doubt, the Times wrote, this “will significantly boost US relations with Russia,” who felt the “Bush era scheme . . . a threat to its national security.”  The story also opined that the decision was influenced by the idea that Iran’s nuclear program has not progressed as fast as predicted, and that the decision also will not please the European countries originally involved in the plan.

According to the Army Times, “The Universal Camoflage Pattern” for the Army’s soldiers does not do the job as well as other patterns, a new study has reported (9/17/09).  HT to ProPublica for this and the following item: Pentagon Study Proposes Overhaul of Defense Base Act to Cover Care for Injured Contractors. T. Christian Miller’s September 16 investigative news story reveals that “Congress could save as much as $250 million a year through a sweeping overhaul of the controversial U.S. system to care for civilian contractors injured in war zones, according to a new Pentagon study.”  Just like civilians at home, the contractors often face long battles to get medical treatment and disability pay.

(Image by Spc. Christa Martin 11-3-06)

Related references:

  • From Behind the Lines, by David C. Morrison (9/16/09).  To quote:

Follow the money: “Financing is the soft underbelly of terrorism, and the financiers of terrorism greatly fear transparency and financial loss. They are particularly susceptible to deterrence through risk of exposure,” a National Post op-ed propounds. A Saudi charity believed to be an al Qaeda front has provided $15 million to Pakistani extremist groups to fund terror attacks, The International News quotes a secret police report. . . .“Long after the ending of the Cold War, the chance that some nuclear weapons will [be used] may well be higher than it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Daniel Ellsberg alerts in the Bloomington Alternative. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are “an existential threat to our way of life,” a retired general argues in Human Events.

The Taliban has made roadside bombs even deadlier, The Washington Times tells — as ReportLinker offers a new study plumbing the “Counter-IED Systems Market,” priced at a mere $2,141.

Posted via email from Southwest Postings

David Baldacci – At it again: a reprise

[Original post date – 11/9/07] Thursdays usually focus on the wars, the Middle East or national security. Baldacci’s books are thrillers about national security.

Best selling novelist, David Baldacci’s new book Stone Cold came out this week, and I was privileged to read an advance copy. What fun it was to discover this new (to me, at least) author. He writes about one of my blog’s favorite fascinations, the federal government. ” Spooks, Spies – Eyes and Ears in the Skies,” is one example. I cannot imagine where I have been all this time.

During the past ten years, 13 of Baldacci’s books have been bestsellers. They should have been familiar to me, because my blogs are often written about what is behind the door of chilling government power — spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, illegal domestic surveillance and threats to civil liberties, all subjects woven through the scenes in this author’s books.

This novel’s fascinating main characters will be familiar to dedicated Baldacci fans because Stone Cold is the third in his popular Camel Club series. Traits found in lead characters were carefully woven in moral shades of gray in several previous novels; two of the best sellers were “The Collectors” and “Simple Genius.” And the new book does not disappoint; we meet people who span the warp and woof of good and bad, flawed and heroic. Baldacci uses an interesting technique; he lets his readers in on his character’s thoughts via italics. For example – a CIA man trying to find his targets reflects on his experience:

. . . Gray’s men had checked. Still, with Carter Gray’s resources no one should be able to simply vanish. No wonder these terrorist sleeper cells were proving nearly impossible to uncover. America was too damn big and too damn free. In some ways the Soviets had had it right: Spy on everybody because you never know when a friend might turn into an enemy.

Baldacci’s fiction tapestry is that of government. His is not the government you and I would know from mainstream media accounts. Baldacci’s is a very recognizable shadowy universe that hides spooks, spies and assassins, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Secret Service, and even the Chair of the Senate Intel committee. He introduces a new character in this book, nemesis “Harry Finn.” Psychologically astute, Baldacci often lets you know what his characters think. Here is a wonderful example:

. . . And when Gray had left the government, he had also left most of his protection behind. . . but Finn was confident he would eventually get to the man.

When Finn looked at the life he had now as part of a family of five in a quite ordinary Virginia suburb complete with a lovable dog, music lessons, soccer matches, baseball games and swim meets, and compared it to the life he has as a child, the juxtaposition was close to apocalyptic in its effect on him. That’s why he rarely thought of these things close together. That’s why he was Harry Finn, King of Compartmentalization. He could build walls in his mind nothing could pierce.

With this novel I walked into what seem to be very complex and realistic scenes from the high powered world of governance. I now know what I have been missing — a dynamite read, at times almost literally. Because his characters have the latest nifty gadgets and like to blow things up, a computer becomes the weapon in one of the author’s intricately interwoven plot lines. To quote from the book:

Finn had been able to get his device past security because it didn’t have any explosive materials in it. Instead, the device had been designed to ignite a chemical reaction inside the components in the CPU. It was a reaction that would make the otherwise harmless CPU a bomb, a possibility no one in the computer industry would want you to know.

Meet Baldacci’s well known hero, “Oliver Stone.” Asked in a Publishers Weekly interview why he named the lead character after a famous film director, Baldacci said, “Stone the film director has a reputation for taking on controversial subjects. Naming my character after him was an act of homage to a man who isn’t afraid to take unpopular positions.” To quote the author from another interview:

Oliver Stone first entered my imagination when I was a young lawyer. I walked past Lafayette Park in the mid-1980s and saw the protesters there. Fast-forward nearly twenty years and the sign, “I want the truth,” is flying proudly in that same park, at least fictionally. Gray characters are the most interesting. They have flaws, divided loyalties, moral complexity, and internal debates about what to do. Do the ends always justify the means? We’ve seen it recently with the Bush administration where you had former Attorney General Ashcroft and his top lieutenants ready to hand in their resignations over the warrantless surveillance matter.

To quote from Stone Cold‘s subsequent park scene from above, Oliver Stone approaches the White House:

He would never be allowed to enter the front gates and lacked even the right to stand on that coveted side of Pennsylvania Avenue. What he could do was wait in Lafayette park across the street. He used to have a tent there until the Secret Service made him take it down. Yet freedom of speech was still alive and well in America and thus his banner had remained. Unfurled between two pieces of rebar stuck in the ground, it read, “I want the truth.” So did a few other people in this town, it was rumored. To date, Stone had never heard of anyone actually finding it within the confines of the world capital of spin and deceit.

This skilled writer will introduce you to fast-paced and easy to follow threads of intrigue, mystery, complex twists and turns guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. In Washington D.C. for book signings on Wednesday, David Baldacci is scheduled to be in Richmond, VA on Saturday, Nov. 17. He plans to be at the Barnes and Noble store on Brook Road at 2:00 p.m., if you live in the area.

In conclusion — and because I am also a reading advocate — I learned that Baldacci and his wife are passionate about keeping families reading. In 1999 they founded the “Wish You Well Foundation.” The organization’s mission is to support family literacy in the U.S. by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs.

Partnering against the cold of hunger — His foundation has recently partnered with America’s Second Harvest: The Nation’s Food Bank Network, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S. to donate books to families in need. The joint initiative is called “Feeding Body and Mind.” Donations are coming in from all around the world, and they are now seeking corporate sponsorship to continue broadening their efforts.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Making Good Mondays is about Twitter.

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See also Behind the Links, for further info.

Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. My creative website is at Making Good Mondays. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

What to do about Gitmo, Bagram, the CIA and Congressional oversight?

The big story Monday, that “Obama’s Gitmo Task Force Blows its Deadline,” was exclusively explained and updated by Michael Isikoff at Newsweek. A White House briefing by anonymous officials, as to why there was a delay, gave reasons revolving around an inability to reach consensus on a number of key sticking points. The issues regard indefinite detention and what to do with new prisoners. Tuesday Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com wrote that first steps have already been taken to implement preventive detention and military commissions, briefed in an interim report. To quote:

Though the Task Force’s final recommendations were delayed, it did release an interim report (.pdf) which — true to Obama’s prior pledges — envisions an optional, three-tiered “system of justice” for imprisoning accused Terrorists, to be determined by the Obama administration in each case: (1) real trials in real courts for some; (2) military commissions for others; and (3) indefinite detention with no charges for the rest. This memo is the first step towards institutionalizing both a new scheme of preventive detention and Obama’s version of military commissions.

Another big Monday story was headlined,”Pentagon Seeks Prison Overhaul in Afghanistan,” by Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. To summarize: “A U.S. military review calls for overhauling the troubled American-run prison at Bagram Air Base, which has become an ominous symbol for Afghans.” Following up on the story, Daphne Eviatar at the Washington Independent adds that, “Human Rights First, which has done some of the most extensive work on the Bagram prison and the justice system in Afghanistan, is expected to release a new report on the problems there this week.” In a follow up story cited in the Greenwald piece above, Eviatar talked at length about the material that came out in the anonymous White House briefing, noting that President Obama may seek the authority to indefinitely detain members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban first proposed a year ago by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey. And Congress may or may not have anything to say about it. Many of the issues have already produced court rulings, many of which are on appeal by the current administration.

Last week the news was about the habeas corpus case of Mohammed Jawad. Daphne Eviatar of The Washington Independent has the story (7/16/09), stating that President Obama still has not announced his policy on evidence acquired through torture. However, the government did shift its position to say that it would not oppose the defense lawyers’ arguments that the “confession” of Jawad when he was 12 years old was evidence that was coersed, unreliable and inadmissible. The next day the judge in the case suppressed the coerced confessions and refused to delay a hearing in the Jawad/Gitmo case, Eviatar continued the earlier story.

Last week’s US House news regarded Congressional oversight of the CIA. Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) talked to Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent about a possible review that would be similar to the Church and Pike Commissions of the 1970s. Ackerman wondered whether there is any House interest in such a “way sensitive” CIA inquiry (7/16/09), asking himself whether this will happen. The very next day the House Intelligence Committee’s Chairman Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX) announced that there would be an investigation of the CIA’s “significant actions,” recently shut down by Leon Panetta, possibly a planned assassination ring that was under the direction of Dick Cheney.

Over on the Senate side the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein (D-Calif) and Kit Bond (R-Mo), announced that the committee has agreed on an authorization bill for 2010 intelligence funding. WI’s Spencer Ackerman revealed a number of very significant provisions in the bill that entail beefing up congressional oversight. The article was published on 7/17/09.

Reference: The New America Foundation has a new report that puts the actual rate of Guantanamo recidivism at 4%. (HT to Spencer Ackerman 7/20/09).

[Post date – July 22, 2009]

Blogs: My general purpose/southwest focus blog is at Southwest Progressive. See also Behind the Links. And Carol Gee – Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

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What is behind all this hide and seek?

Waterboarding techniques were not what made 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad confess. He had already started to talk before the “enhanced interrogation” started. And actually at one point, Dick Cheney ‘fessesd up’ that rapport, not torture, got intelligence. Following the most recent revelations about Cheney’s larger role in the Bush administration’s s0-called “war on terror, he is no longer “fessing up” to anything. He is again hiding at an undisclosed location. His daughter, Liz seems to now be his official spokesperson.

Well before Cheney stopped talking this question for Cheney occurred to a blogger: “How come no attacks after the torture stopped?” Here is another question: Why did the CIA hide Dick Cheney’s role in briefing Congress? As it turns out, former Vice President Cheney’s campaign to make sure that interrogations could continue as before, to keep lawmakers in line on torture, started midway in the Bush administration .

So, as we are now finding out, the Vice President, not the President, was apparently in the lead of the administration’s efforts to run secret operations that were more often than not, outside of the rule of law. For example the May 10, 2005 Justice Department opinions on combined torture techniques were retrospective, designed to give legal cover to something that has already happened. The effect of a related NYT story that misrepresents James Comey’s e-mails, claiming that he approved torture, amounted to a pre-emptive strike on the OPR Report that will come out at some point.

The Geneva Convention failed to assure that U.S. detainees received humane treatment. At an international conference in Italy a few weeks ago, Georgetown lawyers from the Center on National Security and the Law were planning to urge a new Geneva Convention for terrorism. Common article 3, they feel is too vague to guide the government of how to protect the security of the United States while also upholding our basic values about justice. UN Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, last month called for for transparency and accountability as he presented his report on U.S. policies that have led to unlawful deaths and other abuses.

The case of tortured U.S. citizen, Naji Hamdan tested the Obama Administration on human rights. Did they stand silent, as the man who was himself tortured, went on trial in the UAE? With this and far too many other examples, the Obama administration finds itself “between a rock and a hard place.” Rightly focusing on the economy, reforming health care, and tackling other issues is still front and center. Over and over again, to “put this behind us,” the President or the Justice Department took the same legal position as the former administration. When it comes to how to come under the rule of law both in fact and in spirit they failed to step up and do the right thing immediately. Opting for secrecy, turning a blind eye, and assigning a low priority to accountability, are no longer working however.

Dragged kicking and screaming, Congress and the administration are being forced little by little to look back, in spite to their most commendable and forward looking policy changes and needed reforms. In some kind of magical way, the current Senate focus on confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court reminds us all once again that we are a nation of laws, not men. . . or (thank goodness) women. We will get back into balance with time, and because of how our founders set up the system. We must believe this.

[Post date – July 15, 2009]

My all-in-one Home Page of websites where I post regularly: Carol Gee – Online Universe

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